Books That Made the Grade

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In six days, my oldest son will “graduate” from eighth grade, and enter the big, new world known as high school. I am pretty sure he is ready for the adventure, and equally sure I am not.

As the calendar pages fall away, and the milestone creeps nearer, I find myself welling up frequently as I reflect on the last 11 years, spent entirely on one campus, as he has moved the from the preschool yard, to the lower school playground, and finally onto the middle school athletic fields.

I have discovered that along with following the evolution of the recess facilities that have accompanied his growth and provided countless memories, I can trace my way back through time with a treasure trove of books that will forever mark for me the moments that have made up his childhood.

Our journey started on a Saturday, as we arrived at the school for preschool evaluation.  Pregnant with our second child, I left my only-but-not-for-much-longer baby with the teachers and other children, while they assessed his readiness to enter the world of toddler academia.

An hour later, he emerged from the classroom proudly holding his very own “Very Hungry Caterpillar,” made from colored circles glued to paper. He had just met his first teacher, and been read his very first “schoolbook.” A new era had begun.

“Mother Goose” will always speak to me of Mrs. Davis’ pre-K class and the “Mother Goose Revue,” in which Nick played the Spider from “Little Miss Muffett.” He wore a costume made largely of black pantyhose and cotton fluff, and although his only line was “BOO!” he was obviously the star of the show.

Kindergarten brought the Caldecott Club. Each week, we would check out books that had been honored with the Caldecott Award. Once we had read 25 books, his name went up on the Caldecott wall in the library.

First grade gave us Mrs. Albano, who despite becoming a first-time mommy herself, returned to help usher our children from the land of phonics into the world of full-fledged readers. The tables turned, and my child began reading aloud to me.

“Flat Stanley” arrived along with second grade, and the students made their own one-dimensional buddies who, much like Jeff Brown’s title character went on grand adventures through the mail.

This was also the year that Nick wrote his first (and last) letter to an author praising him for his work. The honor went to Ron Roy for the “A to Z Mysteries” series, and I still have a copy tucked away.

Third grade will always belong to William Shakespeare.  Thanks to a fabulous librarian, Mrs. Henderson, and her lunchtime Shakespeare Club, it was during this year that Nick began to cultivate an appreciation of the Bard.  This humble club has not only inspired a new generation to memorize sonnets, and perform balcony scenes, but has spurned a week-long celebration, during Shakespeare’s birthday week, that continues at the school even now, years after a new and equally fabulous librarian has taken the helm.

In Mrs. Moore’s fourth grade class, “The Tale of Despereaux” brought a soup party as the class celebrated freedom from oppression by eating soup – something that was for a time banned in Despereaux’s kingdom. The occasion called for volunteers to bring soup, and like any good mother, I brought my Crockpot, filled to the brim with “homemade” soup from Corner Bakery.

In fifth grade, students read both “The Land” and “Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry” by Mildred D. Taylor, which deal with civil rights issues and racial injustice. This inspired Nick to go on and read other novels dealing with the same issues and explore his own thoughts and feelings on the topic, helping him to develop his social conscience, and refine his moral compass.

Middle school has brought us an assortment of the usual suspects: “Romeo and Juliet,” “Out of the Dust,” “The Giver,” “Diary of Anne Frank,” “Hatchet,” “Hamlet,” and, the favorite of both of us, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” to name just a few. Each had its own lesson to teach, some new concept to ponder.  Coupled with an incredible array of teachers, who deftly guided Nick and his peers not only through the texts, but also through the tricky waters of adolescence, the knowledge gleaned has been incalculable.

Now, as this once new era is about to become the old, I am bursting with pride at the young man he has become, appreciation for the teachers, and authors, and words that have helped to shape him, and anticipation for the books that will define this next chapter, the pages of which he will author himself.

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